(In Transit)

It’s always a challenge to
see all the films you want to see at a film festival, but it’s also difficult
figuring out which films you should
watch- many are making their world premieres and have yet to be reviewed. I attended
Press & Industry (P&I) screenings with my TFF Industry badge. I also watched
some films online after their premieres as well as on my mobile devices during
my commute. (Though very few of the features were available online, most of the
shorts were.) One drawback to not seeing a public screening, however, is the
loss of community from a shared audience experience. P&I screenings also
didn’t include the usual Q&A with the director and cast.

Even with the various outlets
to watch them, I still didn’t see all the films I wanted to see. But here are
some of my favorites:


I watched In My Father’s House at
a P&I screening and I was instantly taken by the journey of rapper/artist
Che “Rhymefest” Smith as he tries to reconnect with his estranged father.
Sadly, he discovers that his father is homeless and an alcoholic.  The story is moving and heartwarming, as
Smith faces challenges helping his father while struggling with his own
fatherhood. Directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg did an excellent job of storytelling,
using Che’s powerful songs and Paul Brill’s exhilarating score as an integral part
of the film.

I saw The Wolfpack at a sellout
public screening. After a chance meeting in the Lower East Side, director/cinematographer
Crystal Moselle filmed the Angulo family’s six boys over four years. The
documentary filmmaker in me was intrigued by their story, which had all the
elements of a successful character-driven doc. Locked away from New York City by
their overprotective father and homeschooled by their mother, they were rarely ever
allowed outside.  They entertained
themselves by watching movies, including Batman:
The Dark Knight
and Reservoir Dogs,
and acting them out with elaborate homemade costumes and props. After the oldest
boy turned 15 and started to rebel, they finally went out to explore the “real
world” beyond their apartment. Moselle revealed she had shot over 500 hours of
footage, which she and her editor, Enat Sidi, had whittled down to the
82-minute final cut


(The Wolfpack)

Director Camilla Nielsson’s Democrats,
the TFF Award-winner for Best Documentary, is the compelling story of two politicians from rival parties in Zimbabwe
who help create provisions for the country’s new democratic constitution. As you’re
taken on this captivating journey, you’re often left wondering if one of them
is going to be “taken out” at any time because of perceived disloyalty to the
existing corrupt authoritarian leadership. Nielsson and
producer/cinematographer Henrik Bohn Ipsen filmed for over three years with
unprecedented access to these key players.



Baseball fans will enjoy
director Jonathan Hock’s documentary Fastball. The film weaves the history
and technical details of a “fastball” with interviews with some of the great
fastball pitchers and hitters. I learned a lot and now appreciate the enormous
amount of skill it takes for a batter to hit a fastball. I had never been much
of a baseball or sports fan; however, since the major leagues are scouting my
nephew, I wanted to learn more about the game!

I had the most surreal
experience watching Albert Maysles’ wonderful documentary, In Transit. The random,
engaging conversations captured from passengers on the Empire Builder,
America’s busiest cross-country train route, ranged from inspirational to
poignantly sad and sucked you in. There are touching scenes of an elderly man who
knew Martin Luther King Jr. speaking with a young man about being a good father.
You can feel the young man’s pain as he talks about his abusive childhood. Later,
a female passenger confesses her marriage is in transition. She’d always been a
wife, a mother, or “somebody’s something,” but on the train, she says, “I was
just me…I came cross-country to find myself… and I wish I could get back on the
train.” The film, Maysles’ final project before his passing, won a TFF Special
Jury Award. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Maysles a few years ago at a TFF
party. It’s hard to believe we no longer have the privilege of seeing more of
his amazing, unparalleled work.


Meadowland is a heartbreaking story, with outstanding
performances from lead actors Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson as the parents of an
abducted child. I could not hold back my tears in one gut-wrenching scene where
Wilde’s character learns the fate of her son. A very talented supporting cast,
including Giovanni Ribisi, Elisabeth Moss, and John Leguizamo, were also
fabulous. Director/cinematographer Reed Morano’s dual talents shine in making
this story come to life. It is one of those films that will stay with you for a

Lily Tomlin gives one of her
best performances yet in Grandma and Julia Garner is
excellent as her granddaughter who unexpectedly shows up on her doorstep in
need of some cash.  An urban road trip unfolds
as they visit old friends and old flames to come up with the money. Supporting
actors Marcia Gay Harden and Sam Elliott further enrich this moving family
drama, directed by Paul Weitz.



Anesthesia is an enticing New York story from actor/director/writer
Tim Blake Nelson, a fellow New Yorker himself, who gives a strong performance
playing one of his own characters. The talented cast, which includes Sam
Waterston, Glenn Close, Gretchen Mol, K. Todd Freeman, Michael Kenneth
Williams, Kristen Stewart and Jessica Hecht, are all on top of their craft here.
The story follows the chain of events leading up to the mugging of a popular
Columbia University philosophy professor (Waterston), revealing how the
characters’ lives intersect.


This year was one of TFF’s
best for shorts, in my opinion, and I watched them in all ways available-  theater, iPhone, iPad, and on my home
computer. These are my favorites:

TFF Best Documentary Short

Best Narrative Short

KINGDOM OF GARBAGE – TFF Special Jury Mention

Student Visionary Award







TFF offers more than
just movies! Some other events I had the pleasure of attending included:

NYWIFT Tribeca Tea Talk – NYWIFT President Alexis Alexanian,
President of Production at Locomotive, spoke with Jackie Lee, Senior VP,
Features Business Development at post-production services firm Company 3,
and Brunella Lisi, Director of New York Marketing at payroll
company Entertainment Partners about the challenges of independent film
production. One of the main takeaways from their conversation was to always
bring people onto your project who have more experience than you do.

Tribeca Film Institute’s Sloan Works In Progress Scene
– The actor in me is always interested
in readings of projects “in the raw,” and I very much enjoyed the scene
readings from these grantees’ screenplays. Skillfully directed by Abigail Zealy
Bess, the talented actors included Ellen Burstyn and Remy Auberjonois. The four
titles read were The Catcher Was a Spy,
Deep Sea Divers, House of Tomorrow, and The
Man Who Knew Infinity
; Picking Cotton,
still in development, had an oral and visual presentation. I’m looking forward
to seeing all these films come to fruition.
The event was part of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation/TFI partnership to
develop and produce new feature films with science and technology themes and
characters. The Imitation Game, winner
of the 2015 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, is a project that came
out of this program.

Lost, an Oculus
Story Studio Experience –
Wow! This was an awesome immersive virtual
reality experience. You’re led into a small room, where a special viewer and
headphones are placed on your head. A six-minute animated movie starts and you
are magically transported into a forest where a small robotic creature is
trying to find its way. A giant robot appears and searches for the smaller one;
you can feel the ground shake as it walks. The giant robot looks down at you
and suddenly, it’s right in your face! This was a very cool way to end my time
at TFF.

Maria Pusateri



nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

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